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  • Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

    Bailey's Light
    A Brazoria County Ghost Tale

    by Murray Montgomery
    Murray Montgomery

    According to legend, the ghost, carrying a lantern, roams across the flat land of Brazoria County, Texas - at night, constantly searching for a jug of whiskey.

    It appears as a bouncing, white ball of light floating about four to six feet off the ground occasionally making an appearance somewhere between West Columbia and Angleton, Texas. A large number of folks have seen the phenomenon known as "Bailey's Light." My family lived in Angleton and I saw it one night while varmint hunting near the Brazos River. My sister, while a teenager, went with some of her friends searching for Bailey's Light. Well, they found it all right, she said it chased them all the way back to Angleton. I don't think they ever went looking for it again.

    I guess to understand the temperament of the ghost, you would have to know a little about him when he was still of this world - humanly speaking, that is.

    According to The Handbook of Texas, James Briton Bailey was part of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred colonists. He was born in North Carolina in 1779. Bailey was married at a young age and the couple had six children. After his first wife died, he married her sister and fathered five more children.

    Bailey, known as "Brit," moved his family from North Carolina to Kentucky and apparently served in the legislature of that state. He was a very controversial figure and obtained a bad reputation. The story goes that he was prosecuted for forgery before he left the state.

    After leaving Kentucky, Bailey turned up in Tennessee. He lived there for a number of years and later fought in the War of 1812. When the war was over, Bailey moved his family and six adult slaves to Texas. He settled on land that would later become part of Brazoria County. That specific area is known as Bailey's Prairie.

    Bailey allegedly bought his land from the Spanish government. After Mexico won its independence from Spain however, the Mexican authorities refused to recognize his claim that the land belonged to him. Bailey would not give up his home even though Stephen F. Austin ordered him to leave the Austin colony.

    Although Bailey and Austin apparently disliked one another, Austin finally recognized Bailey's squatter's claim to the land. He was given a league and a labor of ground on the east bank of the Brazos River. Brit Bailey was later commissioned as a captain in the local militia. At that time, Texans were loyal Mexican citizens and Bailey took the oath to defend the Mexican Constitution of 1824.

    Bailey gained a reputation as being a troublemaker - he regularly engaged in brawls and evidently was a constant thorn in the side of Stephen Austin. Some were probably relieved when he finally passed away. Those who knew Brit Bailey may have thought that he died of just plain meanness, but history says that the tough old man succumbed to cholera on December 6, 1832.

    In his will, Bailey demanded that he be buried standing straight up and facing the West. According to legend, he also wanted his rifle at his side and a jug of whiskey at his feet. I'm sure that the story has been embellished greatly over the years - the way I heard it, the slaves who were digging the grave stole Bailey's jug of whiskey. If that's the truth of it, which I doubt, who could blame them? Heck, if he was that mean, they deserved a drink just for having to put up with him all those years.

    Nobody knows what causes the light to appear over Bailey's Prairie. But, it does exist, I've seen it, and there was an eerie sort of feeling that came with that experience.

    The vision of Bailey's Light has been prevalent in Brazoria County for years and the folks there are probably convinced the old Brit is never going to find that jug of whiskey and that's okay - as far as we know, Bailey's ghost has never physically harmed anyone - but scare the hell out of them yes, he has definitely done that.


    Murray Montgomery
    Lone Star Diary
    September, 2000 column
    More Texas Ghosts | People | Columns | Texas Towns | Texas

    Forum:
    Subject: Bailey's Light

    As the story goes around here, his wife took the jug, telling the slaves that Brit had drank enough in his lifetime, he didn't need to continue it into the afterlife.

    Another story tells us that his home, sold a few years after his death to a friend of his, was haunted by his ghost. The woman in the family had seen Brit's ghost in her bedroom. She refused to sleep in the room again. Her husband poo-poo'ed her story and she told him, "Fine, you sleep in the room by yourself." He did, and around midnight was screaming the house down claiming Brit Bailey's ghost was in the room. Needless to say, he didn't sleep in there again, either!!!

    Brit was a mean old man. Once when his family was out of town and Brit had been drinking all day, a preacher came by in search of food and shelter. Brit let him in and fed him, then told him to strip naked and dance. The preacher refused to do so, so Brit pulled out his gun and fired at the preacher's feet until he had no choice but to "dance" for Brit!!! The preacher got back at him, however. When Brit tired of his sport and put down the gun, the preacher grabbed it and made old Brit dance!

    I'd hate to have been around when Brit was alive--he sounds like quite a character, but not one I would choose to associate with.

    Ever read Catherine Munson Foster's book, "Ghosts Along the Brazos"? Dedicated to the ghost of Brit Bailey, it is a good little book of tales for both young and old alike. Her Munson relatives live around this area, and Doris Munson, wife of Thurmond Munson, a relative of Catherine's, is a local artist. I took a pottery class from her at the local college. There is also a Munson cemetery out on Hwy 35, not far from the spot where a historical marker memorializes Brit Bailey, just down the road from Bailey's Prairie. Supposedly, the spot he was buried is somewhere in the woods behind the marker. Anyway, If you have never read the book, try to get a copy at your library--I believe it is out of print now. - Roni Mendez, Lake Jackson, October 17, 2013

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